The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 18, 2018
More and more often, I hear people say something along the lines of what a college student once said: “I think it’s silly to depend so much on the Bible. I just follow my heart. It never leads me wrong.”
There are beautiful aspects to the human heart; but it has gone wrong and can guide us astray. As Jeremiah put it elsewhere in his book of messages from God: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse.”
Our sometimes perverse heart can blind us to the truth and misdirect our aim so we miss the mark and fall short of enjoying life at its best.
I think of the late Lord Kenneth Clark, once Great Britain’s preeminent art historian, and producer of the BBC television series, Civilisation. In an autobiographical account, he wrote about what he called his “religious experience”. He encountered God, he said, in an ancient church in San Lorenzo. He wrote, “My whole being was radiated by a kind of heavenly joy, far more intense than anything I had ever experienced before. This state of mind lasted for several minutes…but wonderful as it was, [it] posed an awkward problem in terms of my actions. My life was far from blameless. I would have to reform.
My family would think I was going mad; and perhaps after all, it was a delusion, for I was in every way unworthy of such a flood of grace. Gradually the effect wore off and I made no effort to retain it. I think I was right. I was too deeply embedded in the world to change course. But I had ‘felt the finger of God’ quite surely.”
Lord Clark’s heart betrayed him. Though he could not doubt the reality of His experience, his heart told him it was irrelevant to what matters most. As a result, he missed out on life’s deepest and highest blessing.
All of us have a heart problem. If our hearts were computers, we’d say they need reprogramming. Even the most religious of us cannot entirely trust our hearts.
The people to whom God had sent Jeremiah had a heart for the Bible and diligently studied God’s law. Yet, their hearts led them to misunderstand it. They saw God’s commandments, His wisdom about how best to live, as something that threw them back on themselves and demanded they get themselves together by ethical application and moral perseverance – when in fact God was using His law to show them that they didn’t have the capacity, on their own, to become the kind of people the law rightly tells them to be. God gave us human beings the demands of His law, not to throw us back on ourselves, but to show us we have no hope but to throw ourselves upon God’s mercy and to ask Him to change us, in ways we cannot, by His own strength and support.
That’s why God here offers a new covenant, one that is not just righteous requirements, but also empowering grace. In this new covenant God will, He says through Jeremiah, “put my law within them, and…write it on their hearts,” so as to enable all who mean to be God’s people, “from the least of them to the greatest”, to know God as the One who is love in all its gratuitous extravagance. By that relationship with God, their hearts will be reprogrammed – and their lives too as a result.
God will change our hearts in ways we cannot if we just allow Him to have at us and to do the work of re-creating us from the inside out to make us masterpieces of His loving artistry in grace. And all it takes from us is our decision to submit to His working upon us and to let Him bring about our transformation.
The last artistic endeavor of Michelangelo was a work called Rondanini Pietá. He labored ten years on a certain block of stone, but ended up scrapping it because the stone was so hard and resistant that sparks flew from under his chisel and the “rock” kept cracking and breaking into pieces that defied his artistic designs. He eventually abandoned that block of stone – but it can be seen to this day. It bears the marks of Michelangelo’s chisel, but none of the beauty of his creativity.
What happened? When asked, sculptor Lorenzo Dominguez shrugged and chalked it up to the hard resistance and unpredictability of stone, saying, “Stone wants to stay stone; the artist wants it to become art.”
Under the work of God’s hands, we are the same. In God’s efforts to free the image of divinity that’s within us and to make us pieces of His art, God chips away everything that isn’t of Him. The hard stone of our hearts either gives way to the chipping or resists it until our stone of a heart breaks down.
If our heart gives way, if it submits to God’s “pounding on” it, the beauty of God’s grace emerges from its seemingly modest potential. If, however, it keeps resisting, there will come a day when God will let that stone just be stone. Then the stone remains what it’s always been, and it misses its chance of becoming something more magnificent.
C.S. Lewis said as much when he stated that there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Alright, then, your will be done. Have your way.”
According to the Bible, our hearts determine our lives. That means our lives will only become all they can be if our hearts become all they can be.
We cannot reprogram our hearts, for we would be using precisely what needs to be reprogrammed in order to do the reprogramming.
We cannot change our hearts, but we can put them under God’s artistic power, and permit God to make them new works of His grace-filled creativity. With new hearts into which He has put His law and by which we come to know Him and His renovating grace, we become new, better and happier people. Let us pray.